Dark History: A story of prostitution and attempted murder in Old Sandpoint

By Ben Olson
Reader Staff

This article is meant to be a companion of the Bonner County History Museum’s current exhibit: “The Dark Days of Sandpoint,” which is well worth a look if you haven’t seen it yet. Murders, unsolved mysteries, ladies of the night— we had it all back in the day.

For this second installment in the Dark History series, we’ll travel back to February, 1904 when a jealous husband attempted to kill his wife, a “soiled dove,” or prostitute, and ultimately turned the gun on himself.

An aerial view of Sandpoint, circa 1905. The cribs began popping up on the left, or west side of Sand Creek. Photo courtesy of Bonner County Historical Society.

An aerial view of Sandpoint, circa 1905. The cribs began popping up on the left, or west side of Sand Creek. Photo courtesy of Bonner County Historical Society.


The headline of the Northern Idaho News was especially urgent on February 19, 1904: “JEALOUSY AND REVENGE CAUSE BLOODY TRAGEDY” it read, with the sub-headline announcing: “Roy Murphy Takes Summary Vengeance Upon His Wife, an Inmate of a House of Prostitution. Murphy Upbraided Woman for Her Scarlet Life and Then Poured a Leaden Volley Into Her.”

“Escorting his wife from the dance hall in the Owl resort to an upstairs-room, Roy Murphy of Tekoa, Wash., Monday night poured three shots into the woman’s head and body, and then turned his revolver upon himself and blew his brains out,” the story began dramatically.

The 25-year-old woman, who goes curiously unnamed throughout the entire article, had recently moved to Sandpoint from Spokane to enter the Owl Resort under the assumed name of Bonita Carson. In other words, she moved to Sandpoint to began a life of prostitution. The Owl was a notorious prostitution den located on Railroad Avenue on the east side of Sand Creek (probably a little north of Trinity’s current location).

Three weeks before the incident, a man showed up at the Owl and the woman acknowledged him as her husband. They made a trip to Spokane to “fix up some matters” involving guardianship of their children, and returned to Sandpoint where the man drank and danced with his wife at the bar.

It was Monday night when the music struck up a waltz and Murphy danced the number with his wife. The two then retired to an upstairs room, where shortly after, pistol shots were heard.

“Upon going into the woman’s chamber,” read the article, “Ben Wingard, the proprietor of the place, and Marshal Harry Sawyer, who was in the resort at the time, found Murphy and the woman lying on the floor of her apartment weltering in their blood.”

Murphy was dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, but the woman was still breathing. She was conscious and able to tell the Marhsal her story. According to her, Murphy was “upbraiding” her about her life of shame. When she retorted that if she was doing wrong he had driven her to it, he pulled a .38 Harrington & Richardson five-shooter and fired into her.

One shot entered at the lobe of her right ear and came out at her cheek bone. A second shot entered the right side of her head just below the ear and lodged in her neck. The third bullet, fired at her when she lay upon the floor, entered her back and passed through her body to lodge in her right breast.

From Dance Hall to Death

Marshal Sawyer claimed to have been present at the Owl on Monday night with the intention of ordering Murphy out of town. Sawyer had become aware of the relationship and “he thought it would be as well if [Murphy] was not hanging around,” read the news report.

When Sawyer pushed open the woman’s door after the shooting, “The sight … was most sickening,” claimed the news report. “Murphy’s pistol was still smoking and was clenched in his right hand. Some of the brain tissue had oozed forth from the hole in his head and lay upon the carpet which was drenched with his blood.”

Upon searching Murphy’s pockets, the Marshal found notes that read names of relatives to notify, as well as receipts showing that he had paid taxes on his property in Tekoa. The notes, as well as Murphy’s suspicious actions the night before at a prize fight at the Owl, convinced Sawyer that the murder was premeditated.

The Woman Still Alive

Even after two “fearful” wounds in her head and the ball which entered her right lung from the back, the woman survived the encounter. The attending physician, Dr. Goddard, claimed that she “stood an excellent show for recovery,” though it would be necessary to soon take her into Spokane to probe for the bullets.

The woman’s father, J. T. Campbell, arrived a few days after the shooting when he had received a telegram informing him of the tragedy.

The news report sums up Murphy with the last paragraph: “That the taint of madness and insanity runs in the Murphy family, and that Murphy may have been insane when he perpetrated his own destruction and attempted the murder of his wife, is attested by the fact that one of his sisters committed suicide and that his father died in the Medical Lake asylum.”

In next week’s installment, we’ll take a look at the changing face of prostitution in Sandpoint, when downtown shifted to the west side of Sand Creek and brothels were relegated to the east side of the creek.

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